If ever there was a company with a death wish, it was Triumph. Seldom has a manufacturer so eagerly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, run headlong into blunders, or persevered in an incorrect course and survived to fumble yet again. But this is not our story.
Our story begins in 1944. Sir John Black he might as well be known as the Black Knight for his strong-willed and mean-tempered way with employees bought what was left of the Triumph Motor Co. Ltd., which at the time wasn’t much. Before the war the company had gone broke and been purchased by Thomas W. Ward, who subsequently sold off much of the company and saw the restall of it turned into rubble by the blitzkrieg. Ward had not really been all that interested in making cars, but rather a profit from what he could peddle off. So when Sir John offered somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 pounds sterling for what remained of Triumph such that it was Ward took the money and ran. Black sold the remains of the factory for what he had paid for the company and wound up with, essentially, the rights to the Triumph name.
Which was what Black was after in the first place. He had been the head of the Standard Motor Co. since 1934, and despite supplying motors to SS (later Jaguar), Standard had little of a sporting image. Triumph, on the other hand, did. The Southern Cross, the Gloria, and the Dolomite were attractive and had competition success as well, even if they didn’t make money.
With the Triumph works gone, however, any Triumph to emerge would be new, and even before the war was over, Blacks plans were well underway. Though the sale of Triumph wasn’t consummated until Dec. 31, 1945, Black had a new chassis and body drawn in 1944.
The chassis was to serve both a sedan and a roadster, and its engineering was assigned to Standard employee Ray Turner. Standard had prewar Triumph stylist Walter Belgrove on board, but he had assignments elsewhere, so Black turned to one Frank Callaby for the design of the sportster. It was Callaby’s pen that sketched the drawings that Black approved, and it must be assumed that the dictatorial Sir John really liked what he saw. In fact, the first roadster produced was to be for his own personal use.
Though Callaby was responsible for the overall shape of the car, the detail work aft of the B-pillar was give to one Arthur Ballard. What they came up with might well be the source of the old saw that says if you give an Englishman a sheet of aluminum hell do something foolish with it. Their creation was a high-waisted tart with an inflated bustle and puffy, detached front fenders separated by an inset, almost vertical, grille. From the front it looked like a chromed-toothed beaver preparing to blow out birthday candles. From any angle it had more polyunsaturated cute than an Osmond family reunion.
Of course, Callaby and Ballard hadnt been given much to work with. Standards engineering director, Ted Grinham (might as well spread the blame), instructed that the front track be narrower than the rear. There was no precedent for this, but the theory was that a wide rear track would allow more passenger room, while the narrow front track required less structure between the front wheels and kept the frontal area down.
There’s no excuse for the deeply recessed grille, however, which in truth was a styling ploy by designers trapped by old habits. The classic, low-slung roadsters of the 20s and 30s all had the radiators behind the front axle line. That was for the room needed for a solid front axle and its attendant pieces. But the new Triumph had independent front suspension, making the set-back radiator at worst an affectation and at best a slavish following of past practice.
A deliberate repeat of earlier practice was the dickey seat (rumble seat to us), a Triumph tradition. A peculiarity of the new car, however, was the use of the forward half of the trunk lid as a second windscreen. The other half of the lid was not used as a seatback, as per common American practice, but rather there were two jump seats, each about as comfortable as a dunce stool. The passengers, if they dared, could squeeze their feet into the foot wells just ahead of the rear axles.
The body was aluminum, not for the sake of saving weight, but because Standard had sheet aluminum in stock and had the experience and tools for working it thanks to wartime air frame manufacture and because sheet steel was in short supply and licensed by the government. The chassis was made of tubular steel again, not for engineering reasons, but because tubular steel was off license.
The engine selected was what was available, a 1776cc OHV Standard four-cylinder producing 65 hp. This was matched to a four-speed transmission with what was sure to be the rave of the future: A column shift.
This was the Triumph 1800 Roadster, released in March 1946 and made until the fall of 1948, during which time 2,500 were made. It probably made money for Sir John and got the company back into peacetime production, but it was virtually hand built and had few parts in common with other models, so a replacement was inevitable.
The successor would be built on the slightly lengthened frame of the Vanguard, Standards imitation Plymouth sedan, and would use the Vanguards bigger, 2,088 cc engine. It would mean a gain of only 3 hp, but it was torquier if also heavier. The new transmission was reduced to three forward speeds (still column shift), but that was good enough for Black, who thought the fewer gears the better.
But then, after designing what was a virtually brand-new car, Black lifted the body of the 1800 almost intact and dropped it on the new chassis like a guilty verdict on an innocent man. It was putting new wine into an old pigs bladder. That was the Triumph Roadster 2000.
To Blacks sure discomfort, the Earls Court auto show in October of 1948, the very same event at which his new roadster was released, arch-rival William Lyons loosed the Jaguar XK120 upon an unsuspecting world. Talk about bad timing. Surprisingly, the 2000 sold at a faster rate than the 1800, but not enough for Black to keep the little chipmunk around. The export record by which steel licenses lived or died was especially damning: Only 184 left Jolly Ol. The axe fell before 1949 was out.
Now, if one thinks it looks strange in the photos, it should be seen it in real life. No matter if the funny little top is up or down, no matter if the rumble seat is open or closed, the car just looks odd.
Then there’s driving it. Both the regular passenger compartment and the rumble seats are high-sided and claustrophobic, and neither is easy to get in. The suicide doors are narrow enough, but entering the rumble seat requires the best moves of a women’s gymnastics Olympic champion.
Don’t let the fact that the Vanguard engine was eventually used in the TR-3 fool you into thinking the 2000 could be made a real car by hot-rodding the motor. It takes a long 28 seconds for the Triumph to tootle its way from zero to 60, and given enough room it will reach 77 mph, but it deserves no more.
Cornering? Well, the lack of lateral support from the Triumphs bench seat (used so Triumph could advertise three-abreast seating) is no liability. The Roadster 2000 discourages such antics by its nautical response to steering inputs. The best way to drive the 2000 is with a knowing look of superiority. The commoners don’t seem to point as much.
As you know, Triumph survived the Roadster 2000, Sir Jack lucky enough to stumble upon the TR-2/TR-3 to stay the firm through other debacles. The Roadster 2000 was forgotten with a vengeance. And probably on Sir Johns orders.